Across the state of Minnesota, school districts have displayed, or will soon display, advocacy for significant increases and meaningful special education reforms at both the federal and state levels, as recommended by the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA).

At the local level, Independent School District (ISD) 318 joined the charge, with ISD 316 scheduled to discuss similar resolutions during a regular board meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 20.

“[These] platforms [seek] to encourage the adoption of fully-funded special education at the federal level, and to increase state funding for special education,” said Superintendent Joni Olson.

In 1975, Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, an act which is today known as The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). According to a resolution presented to the ISD 318 board on Monday, Dec. 18, the law makes available a free appropriate public education “in the least restrictive environment” to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation. It ensures that the “rights of children with disabilities and their parents are protected” and proposes to “assist states and school systems to provide for the education of all children with disabilities.”

According to Board Member Ben Hawkins, when IDEA became law in 1975, the federal government promised to fund 40 percent of the additional cost of educating children with disabilities.

However, since that time, the federal government has failed to adequately fund the mandated programs and services arising under IDEA, never providing more than 15 percent of the additional cost.

“So that requires the school district to dip into the general fund to pay the difference of that,” continued Hawkins.

According to District 318 Business Manager Pat Goggin, for the last school year (July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017), the district’s total expenditures for special education services in the general fund were $9,378,284.

For that same school year, the district received $929,607 of federal special education aid, $4,023,788 of state special education aid and $481,225 of revenue from the Department of Human Services for a total of $5,434,620, said Goggin.

“So, for ISD No. 318, we come up about $4 million short in our special education funding,” explained Goggin.

“This resolution is simply asking for what they [initially] promised,” added Hawkins.

According to the resolution provided on Monday, sufficient federal funding for IDEA would significantly enhance the ability of local school systems to provide an excellent education for all students.

“If this advocacy is successful in raising the level of funding for special education services, the general fund dollars ($4 million in fiscal year 2017) the district currently contributes to fund special education services could be utilized for a wide range of programs and services,” said Olson.

The special education cross-subsidy continues to be a major obstacle for Minnesota school districts to grapple with, particularly due to the growing number of students receiving special education, more specialized services and rising costs associated with those services and inadequate funding.

At Greenway, whose board will discuss similar resolutions on Wednesday, rising costs associated with special education services has already played a factor in difficult decisions concerning staffing.

According to Greenway (ISD 316) Superintendent David Pace, per student, the district’s special education cost is “very high.”

According to the latest cross subsidy report, the gap between local and federal/state funding for special education spending in 316 is about $1.5 million.
“It’s in the top five of school districts,” said Pace, who noted the district has been “in the process of [finding ways] to correct that, manage that, and change the focus there.”

According to the resolution presented to the 318 board members on Monday, the cross-subsidy for school districts for fiscal year 2016 is $679 million, a 5.6 percent increase from 2015.

Between rising need and insufficient state and federal aid, the amount of funding school districts as a whole in Minnesota will be forced to pay for special education costs will reach an average of $815 per student in fiscal year 2017, continued the resolution.

“Special education services are critical in meeting the needs of students with special needs, and MSBA advocacy for fully funding those services will be extremely helpful to students and programs in our district,” said Olson of 318.

Resolutions in their entirety can be requested by the public and will be available at the District 318 administrative offices.

In other business, the 318 school board:

  • Approved the minutes of the following meetings: Dec. 4 World's Best Workforce and Truth in Taxation special meetings, and the Dec. 4 regular meeting.

  • Approved November 2017 claims.

  • Approved the following staff changes: Christine Grover, secretary replacement transfer/hire; Rod Leistikow, facilities director retirement after 24 years of service to the district; Rachel Newman, teacher replacement hire at Robert J. Elkington Middle School; Carrie Riley, secretary replacement hire; Richard Riordan, custodian resignation; Willie Storm, ninth grade wrestling coach replacement hire; and Mike Valentyn, ninth grade football coach replacement hire for next fall.

  • Approved the 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 Service Employee Association contract. Negotiated terms include a three percent salary increase for 2017-2018, a one percent salary increase for 2018-2019, as well as additional personal leave.

  • Approved the 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 Educational Support Professionals (ESP) contract. Negotiated terms include a two percent salary increase for 2017-2018 as well as 2018-2019.

  • Approved and accepted the 2016/2017 Audit Report provided by Jennifer Smith of Wipfli.

  • Approved the final 2017 payable 2018 levy in the amount of $11,271,432.42, which shows a 1.76 percent increase, or an increase of $194,888.98, over last year.

  • Approved a resolution establishing combined polling places for special elections. According to Goggin, this is a new law which requires school districts to pass a resolution annually if they want to combine polling places for a special election in 2018. The resolution must be approved annually by Dec. 31 for elections not held on the statewide general election date. Hawkins, acting as interim Clerk following the resignation of Harvey Hietala from the board, read the resolution, which included a listing of polling places and combined polling places throughout Itasca County. According to Goggin, prior to election dates, residents will receive a mail notice informing them of where and when to cast their vote.

  • Approved a resolution supporting the purchase and exchange of School Trust Land in the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness with the United States Forest Service.

  • Accepted a second reading and approved revisions to Policy 418 Drug-Free Workplace/Drug- Free School, as well as Policy 805 Waste Reduction and Recycling.

  • Accepted the proposed next steps in the formation of a Language Arts committee with external facilitation, and agreed to continue with current Literacy Collaborative professional development during the 2017-18 school year. The discussion concerning the creation of a language arts committee was first publicly addressed following concerns regarding the district’s new literacy collaborative with Ohio State University expressed by Murphy Elementary School fourth grade teacher Bryan Fideldy during a regular board meeting on Monday, Dec. 4. According to Fideldy, “the foundation of this [literacy collaborative] framework has created division, dysfunction, and distrust” within the district. While Fideldy noted that he strongly supported his peers who have adopted and trust the things they have learned from the literacy collaborative, he did express concerns of what he felt were infringements on his, and his fellow instructors’, freedom of instruction. As a result, the district began to engage in discussions concerning the formation of a literacy committee. The committee, according to Olson, will be facilitated by an external provider with an opportunity for all interested elementary school staff to participate. “The purpose of the work will be to further build a positive climate and team building within the community and at the elementary level,” said Olson. The committee will review literacy programming and recommendations will be forwarded to the board for approval via the superintendent.

  • Discussed a timeline to fill the School Board vacancy following Hietala’s resignation on Dec. 4. Following is the recommended timeline for filling the interim school board director position as discussed on Monday: Tuesday, Dec. 19, application is posted online; Dec. 20, 24, and 27, an employment opportunity advertisement will be printed in the Grand Rapids Herald Review; Jan. 4, 2018, online posting/application closes; Jan. 5, 2018, school board members will review applications; Jan. 8, 2018, a resolution will be made to appoint the interim school board director with a 30-day statute requirement prior to taking office; Feb. 12, 2018, acceptance of office and seat new interim school board director for the remainder of the vacancy term.

  • Heard public input from Georgia Niles, a Murphy Elementary School teacher, concerning effects of the literacy collaborative on Title I funds. Niles, following the board’s motion to form a Language Arts committee, said she was happy that the district was “moving in a direction the majority of staff would like to see.”

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